In a scathing report conducted by the Office of the Inspector General for the
U.S. Department Commerce, FirstNet is called to task for its ethical and
FirstNet, an independent authority created by the Middle Class Tax Relief and
Job Creation Act of 2012, is charged with ensuring the creation of a nationwide
public broadband service for emergency responders, a governmental reaction to
the many failures recognized by public officials in response to the 9/11
|PUBLIC COMMS: FirstNet was created to deploy a public broadband
utility for use by first responders across the country.
“The findings in this report represent serious systemic issues,” states the
OIG, openly questioning exactly how $7 billion allocated to the agency were
The inspector general’s office found multiple instances of unreported expenses
and shady contracts awarded without competition.
This included more than $11 million in contracting costs that included no
paperwork, along with millions of dollars worth of duplicated charges resulting
from just one contract, according to the report.
Other questionable actions include multiple agency board members with deep
connections to contractors in the telecommunications industry failing to report
those conflicts of interest or even submit financial disclosure reports as
required by law. At least two board members claimed to have not worked a single
hour for the agency, but still received payment for their work.
Despite this, claims the inspector general, board members continued making
decisions and allocating contracts worth millions of dollars.
In response to the report, the Department of Commerce claimed FirstNet has a
“robust ethics program,” but may have committed “administrative errors” as it
relates to cost overruns and financial disclosure reports never filed with the
government, according to a recent memorandum it issued to the inspector general.
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The audit was commissioned after concerns were voiced last year
by Paul Fitzgerald, Story County sheriff in Iowa and himself a board
member of FirstNet.
“It came as a last resort after months of trying to convince the
board that we had a massive problem on our hands,” said Fitzgerald
earlier this week. “Something had to be done.”
He joins a bipartisan front of lawmakers who have put the
agency’s transparency into question in recent days.
“Unfortunately, the Inspector General’s report confirms what we have
suspected and long feared — that FirstNet had been operating without
proper processes and with disregard for laws that guard against
impropriety,” said U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Oregon, chairman of the
House Communications and Technology Subcommittee.
“Questions of ethics threaten the legitimacy of FirstNet’s efforts
and ultimately undermine its important mission to build a nationwide
public safety broadband network,” he said in a statement.
“The report serves as a note of caution to everyone involved in
FirstNet — they must be diligent about following the rules,” said
U.S. Sen. John Jay Rockefeller, chairman of the Committee on
Commerce, Science and Transportation. “It’s now time to refocus on
making FirstNet operational as soon as possible so that first
responders nationwide can utilize it in their critical mission of
FirstNet’s response to the audit deflected any claims of financial
or ethical mismanagement.
“The report makes a number of recommendations regarding improving
guidance and processes around the Department’s ethics program and
contracting on behalf of FirstNet,” said FirstNet chairwoman Sue
Swenson in a statement on the agency’s website. “We concur with
these recommendations, many of which have already been implemented.”
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